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Press freedom levels in Americas lowest in five years, says new report

A map of global press freedom in 2013, part of Freedom House's Freedom of the Press 2014 report. Green countries are rated Free, yellow ones Partly Free, and purple ones are Not Free. Source: Freedom House report.

The organization Freedom House released its 2014 report on freedom of the press around the world, noting that in 2013 global press freedom was at its lowest level in more than a decade and the lowest in five years for the Americas.

The report, titled “Freedom of the Press 2014: A Global Survey of Media Independence,” also stated that only 14 percent of the world’s population had a “Free” press, defined by the organization as a press that heavily covers politics, is safe from harm and has little interference from governments or economic and legal pressures.

Every year, the report rates the degree of press freedom in 197 countries and territories, rating them on a scale of 0 (most free) to 100 (least free) and classifying them as either Free, Partly Free or Not Free.

In the American continent, five countries were rated Not Free, 15 were considered Partly Free and another 15 were rated Free for 2013. The report cautions that these numbers are strongly influenced by the “open media environments” found in North America and many of the Caribbean nations. In Latin America alone, only three countries were considered Free and only two percent of the population lived in an environment with press freedom.

Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Honduras and Mexico were the five countries whose press was not considered free by the report. Despite a slight improvement from 2012, Cuba is considered the worst in the region for press freedom, and one of the eight worst rated countries worldwide. Although independent media are considered almost nonexistent or inoperable in Cuba, fewer cases of harassment and imprisonment and an improvement in the exit visa system were taken into consideration.

In Venezuela, government efforts to control the media continued as President Nicolás Maduro took over after Hugo Chávez’s death. Several private media outlets, including the opposition television station Globovisión, were bought by the government and reported losing editorial independence.

The new Communications Law in Ecuador “placed excessive controls on content, and imposed onerous obligations on journalists and media outlets,” the report said. The press in Mexico and Honduras was rated Not Free because of the violence and intimidation it faced, which in the latter led to self-censorship in coverage of corruption and organized crime.

Although considered Partly Free, press freedom levels in Panama declined following a concentration of media ownership by President Ricardo Martinelli and allies as well as regulation laws by the government that affected content created by critical media.

In Paraguay, political influence over state-owned media decreased, as did the number of libel cases, which improved its status from Not Free to Partly Free in 2013.

The United States, despite being considered a country with press freedom and one of the “strongest performers” in the Americas, suffered a decrease in 2013. This was partly due to the National Security Agency’s (NSA) mass surveillance practices, which were revealed last year by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. This, along with several cases where reporters who covered national security issues were compelled to hand over their materials to the federal government, threatened journalists’ ability to protect their sources.

After analyzing trends over the past five years, the report also noted a decline in press freedom in more democratic regions while those that are less democratic show an improvement.

The report was published only a few days prior to World Press Freedom Day, which took place on May 3 and has prompted a number of promotional campaigns from press organizations around the world.


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